Because. Nina Lindsay. Sixteen Rivers Press. San Francisco, California. 2016.
Nina Lindsay writes beautiful poems. In Because Lindsay may be simultaneously contemplating the end of days and the proper mix for scone batter or the theft of a stuffed animal from the Oakland Public Library and how that might be a gesture of love. Where we find Lindsay is far less important than what Lindsay finds for us.
These poems have a particularly fine glow to them, polished but lived in, precise not pedantic. Lindsay writes some entertaining verse.
The song was there before the story
The clay in veins before the vessel
The ideal before the double-cross
The destination before the crash
The path worn down before the road
The pattern before setting stone
The urge was there before the flower
The wave before anything went under
The crystal formed before the snow
The embrace before the word for cold
Joy is a rare commodity in poetry, but it is readily available in the pages of Because. Today's book of poetry suggests that Nina Lindsay is a pragmatic realist most the time and yet she has found a way to give these poems considerable and optimistic light.
This morning's reading was held in the garden just outside our office. Bright sunshine filled the sky this morning in Ottawa and these suckers rang out like welcomed birdsong even though there were still a few wine bottles left on the table from last nights revelry.
Last night while K and I were inspecting wine glasses a wasp crawled around the neck of one of the bottles of red and then had gone in for a drink. It was an almost full bottle so we decanted it and the wasp into a wide-mouthed glass. The wasp hadn't gone under yet and although he was wobbly he was able to hang onto the offered garden shears of life. Set him up on the wide wooden railing and let him drink/dry off. After a few moments he kind of shudder stepped to his belly and dropped off his feet. We thought he might be a goner. Ten minutes of hard sun later he scampered to his wasp knees and startled to air his wings. A few minutes after that he took off like a helicopter, like an elevator, flying straight up. And that's how these poems work, a little wine, and then flight.
Poetry Is That
Prayer is that which conveys a message to God, who is either known or knowing, more or less
by definition. Poetry is that which conveys a message to a stranger.
Put God aside, your glass of wine: someone is knocking at the door.
The late light is pressing them against it,
late, for April, and warm--
after a week of storms it came out falteringly, then stronger,
like a mezzo-soprano reaching full throttle.
So: the sun, the stranger, and there are birds
singing over supper, wisteria hanging full and drawn to earth,
neighbors crouched in shadows planting annuals from plastic
And if you like to pretend to be impervious to the advances of
at least take joy in the pretension
and joy in the declination of the dark
and the richness of dream that the dark produces.
It has something, still, to impart,
the part you most need, the dark part that spins,
so that the light spins off it, the minutes, the heat,
the nectar, nasturtiums, pollen, fennel,
steam from hung laundry,
blossoms blocking gutters,
loved ones doing dishes, chopping ginger,
bartenders paring gem-like ribbons of peel,
bus drivers pulling levers, bandmates returning amplifiers,
carpenters writing thank-you notes on yellow legal pads,
fathers clipping nails, jewelers crimping gold,
judges tending reservoirs of doubt,
children breaking sticks in the last of the light,
the unconsoled coming home,
and the stranger at the door:
soon to be either known or knowing,
and you: who are present, who are with them, who answers.
Lindsay contemplates post Katrina New Orleans by channeling Li Po, offers us up a poem about one house looking for another house with matrimonial interest, insists on upending our expectations by giving us "mistranslations" at whim, even a series of "Mistranslations of Animal Riddles," and writes the loveliest love poems to/about her husband. This is a good thing. Poetry should open doors we had yet to perceive.
Today's book of poetry was made enthusiastically happy by reading Because. If you had any idea of what a miserable old contrarian I was you would see the magic in that statement.
In Our Warm Tree House of Evening, You Stood
Before the Undone Dishes and I Answered the Door
Until I answered the door,
rain blew against the house.
I answered its perplexing questions, and it left.
We imagined the dishes done. We imagined our meal again.
the single pair of us in our floating house.
I sat and watched you stand before the undone dishes.
I flattered you with familiar phrases, I put my hands in your back
We uncomplicated the quilts. We stacked the beams. You sat by me
and unlaced my three levels. We understood, unbuilt,
repaired ourselves from spine to elbows. We lay back to back.
Unseated, in our unaccomplished,
unfamiliared, familiar bodies.
Nina Lindsay speaks so lovingly about love that everyone here at Today's book of poetry is jealous of her Oakland husband. Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, and Milo, our head tech, were all lovey-dovey after this morning's read. I told Kathryn that TBOP would need our copy of Because back for the office collection. Almost certain I heard her mutter something like "not likely" but that couldn't be true for she is not the insolent type. Besides, I know where Kathryn and Milo have their poetry bookcase.
Because was thoroughly enjoyed here at Today's book of poetry, apparently enough to warrant theft because I just saw Kathryn leave with it under her arm.
(Photo by Aya Brackett)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nina Lindsay’s work has appeared in the Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Poetry International, the Colorado Review, Fence, Rattle, and many other journals, and has been awarded the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize. Nina also writes children’s literary criticism and reviews for Kirkus, The Horn Book Magazine, School Library Journal, and others. She grew up in Oakland, California, where she lives today, and works for the Oakland Public Library.
Nina Lindsay’s Because is beautiful work. The poems pick through the things of the world, her world, exposing the unseen and intensifying the seen. They question what she calls “our multifrond uncertainties and errors” and “hesitant happiness.” She negotiates with great poise the push-pull of darkness and light, presence and absence, waking consciousness and the dream life. The familiar becomes, in her telling, unfamiliar and fraught. “February’s dust is rapturous,” she says. The poems, too, even in their melancholies, are rapturous.”
–W. S. Di Piero
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